UK telecoms giant BT has committed to switching customers from its existing PSTN network to a fully fledged, end-to-end voice-over IP (VoIP) network by 2006, following a successful trial of 1,000 users. The group expects to make annual savings of £1bn sterling per annum through the VoIP network through the implementation of what it terms the 21CN project.
BT Wholesale chief executive Paul Reynolds said: “We’ve been talking about our vision for our 21st century network and today marks the start of the transition from planning stage to physical implementation.
“The 21CN programme will deliver today’s services at better cost by removing duplication in our networks and underpin the delivery of services customers will want in the future. For customers, the end result will be a complete experience – one based on convenience and ease of use of all communications services including mobility, video, data services and voice.”
The first stage in the migration pilot will involve the bypass of the core PSTN network link between two major network nodes at Cambridge and Woolwich. An extension is planned later to Faraday exchange in London.
From October 2004, BT will divert voice calls between these network nodes to the 21CN specific IP network. Calls will be carried using IP packet technology rather than the circuit switched technology used on PSTN. The switch-over will be seamless from the customer’s perspective and service quality will be the same or better than on PSTN.
The next stage of this pilot involves the installation of new equipment at 18 exchanges in South East London, Kent and East Anglia – which are connected to the network nodes in Cambridge and Woolwich. This equipment, known as multi service access nodes (MSANs), will carry voice and data services onto the core IP based network, initially for 1,000 customers by January 2005.
Reynolds added: “We want to be absolutely clear that using IP technology in our network for our premium quality voice services is a gulf apart from the new budget voice over the internet services being launched almost daily by a wide range of providers.
“We believe we can provide these services over IP at the same or better than the high standards of quality and reliability people expect from the PSTN today. These calls are not going over the internet. They will be carried on our dedicated high capacity IP networks which also carry data and broadband services.
“Adopting IP as the common transport method is both cost efficient and facilitates technology, systems, product and service convergence. BT’s vision is that voice will be one of many applications run over an IP network in our 21st century network world.”
BT also announced trials of niche deployments of fibre to business premises, aimed at testing the technical and commercial issues involved. The premises trials are currently taking place at Martlesham Heath, Suffolk; at Kents Hill, the Bolbeck Park and Walnut Tree developments in Milton Keynes; and at the Waterfront Studios business centre, at Silvertown in London’s Docklands.
The trials will provide telephone and broadband services over fibre for up to 1,500 homes and businesses. The first trialists will have their fibre lines installed and working in October 2004 and the trial will run until September 2005.
Reynolds said: “As part of our 21CN programme, BT is looking at the potential that fibre in the access network can deliver for our customers and the investment and operational requirements that go with it. If the commercial case is proved, we could begin to consider the role that fibre may have further out in the network in the future.
“We expect the real benefits of this trial to be in informing our thinking on the relative costs and benefits of deploying fibre, rather than copper, to homes and businesses in greenfield sites or new-build developments.”
By John Kennedy